Anger: how to understand and express your hostile emotions
Anger is one of the most powerful and primary emotions of human beings. With the improvement of living conditions in modern societies, we would expect to see its presence decreasing, but is that actually happening?
Tantrums, fights in the street, intolerance towards others or self-harm are all signs of social and individual anger, and we suffer because of it.
Why do we suffer from anger? Why is it often such a burden? According to my experience as a therapist, it is because we often feel afraid of it or of what lies behind it. We then start to either repress it or act it out. In this way, we create even more anger and start feeling that it is overcoming us.
The tools to deal with problems associated with anger, then, are:
› to understand what it is,
› to see what is behind it, and
› to allow ourselves to express it in a healthy and appropriate way.
The first thing to be understood about anger is that it is a primal emotion with a function: it preserves and protects our life space from physical, emotional and psychological violation. Basically, anger is a real manifestation of our personal power and presence, a self-affirmation: "I am; I exist!".
It is enough to imagine how animals become aggressive when they are hurt. In reality they are trying to protect themselves because they are in a vulnerable position.
It works the same way for us - not only on a physical level, but also on a psychological and emotional level.
Anger becomes a problem when we accumulate too much of it. When this happens, we either feel overloaded by it and react inappropriately to present situations, or we repress it and keep it inside, causing us to feel blocked and unable to enjoy life.
Both the dynamics cause suffering and invalidate our lives. Why then do we accumulate anger?
This tendency can develop after an experience of childhood trauma, or a situation involving physical, psychological or emotional violation in which we are passive and overpowered.
The pain is too much and in order to survive psychologically we repress it and develop anger and/or fear as protectors of this pain.
Their function is to distract our attention from the pain. Anger and fear take on the same intensity as that of the original pain.
When we grow up, these defences can start growing and occupying too much space in our lives if we don’t let them go and integrate the repressed pain. We can develop various problems such as depression, anxiety, isolation, addiction, etc.
Here are some testimonials of people who have or have had anger-related difficulties:
› "I grew up in an emotionally repressed environment; my father didn’t allow me to express any kind of emotions. Now I feel frozen and any kind of emotional expression, even crying, is violent for me." Luca - 34, Italy
› "In my family there was a lot of violence between my parents and my father was an alcoholic. I was very scared and I found refuge in my mind and in isolating myself from emotions. Now I suffer of a long depression and I don’t allow myself to feel angry, it hurts each time it comes up, it feels overwhelming." Richard - 38, Ireland
› "In the past I was abusing alcohol and being violent. I was looking for an excuse to fight and release some anger. I see only now that was my way to escape from the old pain of growing up with an absent mother and a violent father." Abelardo, 45 - Spain
› "Sometimes I lose control when I feel criticized or I have the sensation that someone invades my space. I start to shout or to be physically violent to him and I don’t know why." Lucy, 26 - USA
Seeing anger as an opportunity
Going deeper in understanding what happened to us and uncovering our story is a very important step that leads us to release the accumulated anger and pain.
At this level, conversational therapy helps us understand our pain by ending the repression of it. Repression is just another burden in addition to the pain we already have. Therapy helps us to accept our past and to start living life more freely.
A trauma or a bad experience is like a thorn that sticks in our heart. It hurts so much when it goes in that we are afraid to take it out and feel the same pain again. But we know we need to do it, because otherwise we can get an "infection" (depression, anxiety, addiction etc).
It is important to realize that expelling the "thorn" might make us feel the same pain as we did when it first stuck in. But now, the movement is different. It is not a new thorn coming in but rather an old thorn finally going out!
Apart from understanding anger, it can be very important to engage in activities that have cathartic capacities. This creates the opportunity for our hidden pain to leave us.
Thanks to the great work of therapies such as Bioenergetics, Primal Therapy and Bonding and of Panic Theater, Martial Arts and Dynamic meditations, it is possible today to have appropriate and safe settings for individuals and groups in which anger and pain can be freely expressed.
These techniques offer a space to channel this energy called "anger" towards concrete objects or images using movements and sounds. The aim is emotional release.
Catharsis: strategies for expressing anger at home
Here below are some examples of exercises that you can also do by yourself at home to express anger and experience release:
› Catharsis with arms and hands
Put a pillow on the floor in front of the bed and one pillow on the mattress. Beat the pillow rhythmically with both fists or with one arm at a time for about 10 minutes. Increase the rhythm until you are exhausted.
Use music that encourages the expression of anger. If you feel stuck, imagine situations or people who have hurt you or disrespected you in the past. Rest for five minutes in silence.
› Catharsis with legs
Lie down with your legs stretched out on a bed with no bedpost on the side of the feet, or, alternatively, on a mattress on the floor. Kick, raising alternately the left and right leg and slamming them on the mattress with force.
The whole leg must make contact with the mattress. The legs should be straight but not stiff. The movement comes from the hips and not from the knees and the leg is raised as much as possible.
For every hit, say "No" firmly from your belly. Then when you start getting your rhythm in kicking, you can say a prolonged "No". Time: 10-15 minutes and then rest for five minutes.
› Catharsis of the mind
Sit on the floor or on a chair with eyes closed. Use loud background music like sounds from an open market. You can find it easily on YouTube. Take some deep breaths and then start to move arms, head and torso.
Combine the body movements with uttering nonsense sounds from your mouth and stretch the muscles of the face to the maximum. This is called "Gibberish" (speak a language that does not exist). All movements should follow the spontaneous flow of sounds that emerge. Time: 10-15 minutes and then be silent for five minutes.
You might find yourself crying or laughing or even feeling pleasure during or after the exercises. Whatever is arising, let it happen without creating any obstacles, let it flow. If you feel frozen or blocked, it is caused by your own resistance.
Sometimes you might experience shame, guilt or fear about what you are doing. Just use those feelings for the catharsis - express them, don’t buy into them. You will see that they are a bluff and that they will bring deeper feelings to the surface.
If you feel lost and confused, just focus on a situation or a person that makes or made you suffer and use it as a trigger to unblock your emotions.
Anger is not an enemy, it’s just an energy
The truth is that we start to have problems with anger when we don’t accept and express it in a proper way. In fact, anger in itself is simply a very useful and healthy form of human energy; an important source of transformative energy and self-empowerment.
If we simply start to understand and express it without judging or following our fears, it will not create any problems. Instead, it will help us to let go of our problems and feel emotionally free and happy!
"No matter how much conditioning
we are going through,
we are still intuitive beings.
You have to feel your life,
it is not enough that you think your life
It has to be felt. To feel even unpleasant things
and have the trust in your heart:
“Yes, good will come out of this"